America’s “Beautiful” Weapons

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

W.J. Astore

President Trump is hawking weapons in the Middle East.  After concluding a deal with the Saudis for $110 billion in weaponry, he sought out the Emir of Qatar and said their discussions would focus on “the purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment.”

Trump’s reference to American weapons as “beautiful” echoed the recent words of Brian Williams at MSNBC, who characterized images from the Tomahawk missile attack on Syria as “beautiful,” not once but three times.

We can vilify Trump and Williams for seeing beauty in weapons that kill, but we must also recognize Americans love their technology of death.  It’s one big reason why we have more than 300 million guns in America, enough to arm virtually every American, from cradle to grave.

Why do we place so much faith in weapons?  Why do we love them so?

In military affairs, America is especially prone to putting its faith in weapons.  The problem is that often weaponry is either less important than one thinks, or seductive in its promise.  Think of U.S. aerial drones, for example.  They’ve killed a lot of people without showing any decisiveness.

Technology is a rational and orderly endeavor, but war is irrational and chaotic.  Countries develop technology for war, thinking they are adding order and predictability, when they are usually adding just another element of unpredictability while expanding death.

U.S. air power is a great example — death everywhere, but no decisiveness.  Look at Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia).  The U.S. obliterated vast areas with high explosive and napalm and Agent Orange, killing millions without winning the war.  The technological image of America today is not stunning cars or clever consumer inventions but rather Predator and Reaper drones and giant bombs like MOAB.

Profligate expenditures on weapons and their export obviously feed America’s military-industrial complex.  Such weapons are sold by our politicians as job-creators, but they’re really widow-makers and life-takers.   Americans used to describe armament makers as “merchants of death,” until, that is, we became the number one producer and exporter of these armaments.  Now they’re “beautiful” to our president and to our media mouthpieces.

We have a strange love affair with weapons that borders on a fetish.  I’ve been to a few military re-enactments, in which well-intended re-enactors play at war.  The guys I’ve talked to are often experts on the nuts and bolts of the military weaponry they carry, but of course the guns aren’t loaded.  It’s all bloodless fun, a “war game,” if you will.

Nowadays real war is often much like a video game, at least to U.S. “pilots” sitting in trailers in Nevada.  It’s not a game to an Afghan or Yemeni getting blown to bits by a Hellfire missile fired by a drone.  For some reason, foreigners on the receiving end of U.S. weaponry don’t think of it as “beautiful.”  Nor do we, when our weapons are turned against us.

Enough with the “beautiful” weapons, America.  Let’s stick to the beauty of spacious skies and amber waves of grain.

Trump and the Art of the Con

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W.J. Astore

The ink hasn’t yet dried on Trump’s victory and we’re already hearing about how his campaign promises are being “modified,” i.e. reneged on.  Trump’s infamous wall along the border with Mexico is already becoming more virtual than real, with admissions that Mexico will not pay for it. Trump himself has suggested he favors certain features of Obamacare (no denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions, and coverage extended to “children” until the age of 26), so there’ll be no wholesale “repeal and replace,” as he promised.  He also promised to appoint a special prosecutor to go after Hillary Clinton, to “lock her up,” as his followers chanted, but he’s backtracked on that as well.  Talk about draining the swamps of government, of bringing in fresh faces and new ideas, has produced tired old faces like Pence, Gingrich, Giuliani, and Christie.  In a classic case of nepotism, the “fresh” faces are those in his own family, his two sons and daughter Ivanka (she seems to be the one with the most smarts).

Many Trump voters appear to have voted for him because he represented “change,” a rejection of the usual suspects in the establishment.  Yes, the Clintons and their fellow travelers are out, but the hardline Republican establishment is back in, complete with the usual corporate hacks and think tanks.  And if you think these “conservatives” are going to start embracing the working classes and helping them financially with higher wages and better job prospects, I have a Chris Christie bridge for you that’s named after our first president.

These events are hardly surprising.  Trump is a con man.  For him, “the art of the deal” is basically the art of the con.  Consider his promise of bringing back American jobs.  How is that supposed to happen?  Simply through higher tariffs against foreign goods?  Who’s going to replace those with American-made goods at an affordable price to the working classes?

Here’s an example.  I got dressed this morning with no thought about using my clothes as an illustration for this article.  My jeans are made in Mexico (of fabric from the USA, so why weren’t they made here?).  My shirt is from Thailand.  My leather belt is from China, and so too are my shoes.  We all know why.  Labor costs in those countries are much cheaper than those in the USA.  Profits to corporations are thus much higher.  How is Trump going to change this dynamic?

I actually try to buy clothes that are made in America.  I got a nice pair of shoes that are made in Maine.  I got them on sale for a great price, but they retail for over $300.  If they were made in China, they’d probably retail for about $100.  How many members of the working classes are able to spend roughly triple the price for the privilege of wearing shoes and clothes “Made in the USA”?

Here’s one thing Trump could do: Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour so that Americans can afford the up-charge for domestic goods.  Any chance that Trump’s regime is going to do this?

It’s great to talk about bringing back American manufacturing jobs that pay well.  It’s possible to raise barriers to foreign trade to make American goods more competitive.  But who’s going to build the new factories?  And where are the skilled workers with the requisite knowledge base?  With the right advanced tools and technologies?

Speaking of technology, there’s an ever greater push in America to automate everything, even long-haul driving jobs, a job that provides a decent living for many Americans.  Is Trump going to reverse this push?  Is he going to preserve American blue-collar jobs against the pressure applied by multinational corporations to cut costs and maximize profits, workers be damned?  Given Trump’s own record of using cheaper foreign labor and goods, this doesn’t seem bloody likely.

Believe me, I hope I’m wrong, but the early signs are that America’s working classes, along with a lot of Trump enthusiasts, are already getting conned.